APS To Move Ahead With Free Rootftop Solar For 1,500 Homeowners

By Kristena Hansen
Published: Monday, December 22, 2014 - 9:17am
Updated: Monday, December 22, 2014 - 5:34pm
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Arizona Public Service Co. is moving forward with its plan to put rooftop solar on 1,500 homes next year at no cost to the homeowners.

The $28.5 million-program is substantially different from APS’s initial proposal this past summer, and it also no longer needed approval from the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities such as APS.

It drew criticism from some solar industry groups and outgoing Commissioner Brenda Burns at a meeting on Friday, but for somewhat different reasons.

The solar groups argued that it’s unfair for a government-regulated monopoly such as APS to compete in the free market. The program has, on the other hand, received support from some Arizona-based solar companies, which APS plans to partner with exclusively.

Burns said those who oppose the program are mostly doing so because they won't benefit from it.

“When everybody jumps on board with something, it’s usually because everybody’s got something to gain out of it and that’s what’s happening here," she said. "And the people that don’t have anything to gain are opposing it."

Instead, Burns’ issue with the program was the fact that it’ll ultimately force ratepayers to pay for something that APS doesn’t need.

When the utility first proposed it this summer, the program was twice the size, or 3,000 homes, and the goal was to help APS meet the state’s requirements for renewable energy.

But the commission determined APS was actually ahead of those renewable energy goals.

APS then opted to cut it in half and revised the overall goal, calling it a research and development pilot. It also narrowed the focus to solely include lower-income customers, who generally can’t afford the cost of going solar.

APS no longer needed the commission’s approval because it’ll seek to recover the $28.5 million-cost of the program by raising customers’ monthly bills through its next rate case.

Thus, the commission voted on Friday to having “no objection” to the program. Burns was the only commissioner that “objected.”

“The ratepayers shouldn’t be having to pay for more solar than is necessary … I think the bottom line is the bottom line and this is something that’s going to cost the ratepayers and it’s just something we don’t need to do,” she said.

The program will allow APS to rent the rooftops of 1,500 homes for solar panels for 20 years, with the utility picking up the installation and maintenance costs. The solar power generated by those systems will go straight to the grid, rather than the home. In return, each homeowner will receive a $30 reduction on their monthly utility bill.

In addition to giving lower-income customers an opportunity to go solar, Marc Romito, APS’s renewable-energy program manager, said it’ll also serve as a research mechanism for better incorporating increased solar power to the grid.

“The project is absolutely essential for our company to remain at the top of the mountain of solar,” Romito said.

Updated 12/22/2014 at 12:57 p.m.

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